Nine-year-old Julie wants a dog, but her parents say that she must be ten and a half and able to walk a dog by herself before they will get her one. Julie loves other animals, too, so she talks her parents and relatives into giving her creatures that do not need walking: cats, fish, a turtle, a hamster, and a hermit crab. She almost gets a rabbit to keep for spring break from school, but he is sick and dies at her friend Jenna’s home. Julie lost the parental permission slip when she needed to show it to her teacher.
This story is realistic and clearly based on Feiffer’s adopted daughter and the escapades of her pets. For example, Julie’s cat Timmy vomits and poops when the family travels. Despite Julie’s attempts at the “Great Experiment” of getting animals to be friends when they are natural enemies, her large ferocious fish Oscar eats a smaller fish before Julie separates them. One disastrous day, Julie’s father hurts his back, the hamster escapes, Oscar winds up in the toilet, her mother’s favorite vase breaks, Julie gets badly cut and has to go to the hospital just as her kitten has Hammy the hamster in his mouth. But the story has a happy ending: Julie eventually receives a Chihuahua.
A Room with a Zoo’s title is adapted from the title of E. M. Forster’s adult novel A Room with a View (1908). In Feiffer’s chapter book, Julie’s bedroom is a menagerie of animals. Julie herself tells us her story in first-person narration.
The sentences in the fiction chapter book A Room with a Zoo are short, and a good elementary school reader can manage the vocabulary. Feiffer’s illustrations are witty, playful, and affectionate.